I’m a sucker for a crispy, salty tater tot.
There’s a burger shack next door to my office, and every day I fight the battle of resistance against the $1.50 sack o’ tots. I usually win. But then I saw an episode of The Best Thing I Ever Ate: Street Food, and someone, I can’t remember who, named these intense-looking, panko-breaded cheesy mega-tots as their favorite. And that was the beginning of the end. Since that night, I’ve had a one-track mind.
Step one: select your taters. I tried to mimic what they depicted on the show as much as possible, so I went for the standard russets rather than the yukon gold, my typical potato of choice.
Step two: boil your potatoes, whole and unskinned. Takes a while, sure, but keeps them from getting water-logged. Then you peel them while they’re still way too hot to be comfortably peeled, because you have no patience when it comes to homemade cheese-stuffed tater tots. Whatever, I need to develop cook’s fingers anyway.
Step Three: Shred ‘em up. Sure, you could use the FoPro, but you wouldn’t save that much time, and you’d just end up with more shit to wash. The washing-up would get in the way of your immediate enjoyment of tots, so: screw the FoPro.
Step Four: The add-ins. Here’s where I show myself to be a liar about the whole “mimicking what they did on the show” part, because I don’t actually remember what spices and cheeses they used. How’s about some granulated garlic, kosher salt and smoked paprika? Sounds good to me!
For cheese, sharp cheddar and fontina, which I’m 99% sure is NOT what the show people used, but which is a cheese combo I love.
Step Five: Tot-shaping. Since there are no binders in the tot mixture, no eggs or anything, you just have to get in there and squish them together. They’ll stick if you squish hard enough, I promise. And the potato mixture isn’t vile to work with, like cold fatty ground beef, so you won’t even become irritated with it, though it might get a little tedious.
Step Six: Breading. I definitely remember what they did, so we return to the land of accuracy. Here, what you have is the classic flour-egg-breadcrumb breading assembly line.
You’ve noted with interest, I’m sure, that there is no photo of the egg-dipping breading step. This is in part because I didn’t feel like washing off my eggy hands to take a picture, because I’m really quite lazy, and partly because an egg-coated mega-tot looks a lot like a tumor that’s just been removed from someone’s abdomen, and who needs to see that? Neither of us.
Then the tots rest, because your dining partner is stuck at the DMV trying to get a replacement title for your car so you can go trade it in for a new Honda Element, even though you personally think the Element looks like a shoebox on wheels and have been lobbying for another Accord, and you don’t want to eat tots alone.
THEN you decide the DMV is taking way too long and your dining partner probably doesn’t like tots as much as you anyway and DAMN THE TORPEDOES and you fry up a couple of test tots. You can always make more later.
Seriously. Shatteringly crisp crust, gooey cheese – salty cheddar pops and nutty fontina pairing perfectly with the earthy potato – with just enough garlic and paprika to make themselves known. A perfect little package. I tried to make a Tabasco aioli to go with it, but sadly it broke all to hell. You should totally try it, though.
Since they’re mega-tots, you can really only eat one or two. I happen to have 16 left unfried in my fridge. Who’s in for tots and beer tonight?
makes 20-24 extra large tots
2 1/2 pounds russet potatoes
1 1/2 tsp. granulated garlic
1/2 tsp. smoke paprika
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
3 oz. sharp cheddar, grated
3 oz. fontina, grated
1/2 c. AP flour
2 large eggs
1 1/2 c. panko breadcrumbs
veg oil for frying
Make the tot mixture: Fill a large pot with water, add the spuds and put it over high heat. Boil until the potatoes are cooked through but not falling to pieces, 30-35 minutes. Set them aside to cool. When they’re cool enough to handle, peel them, shred them and put them in a big mixing bowl.
Add the garlic, salt, paprika, cheddar and fontina to the shredded potato and combine well, using either a wooden spoon or your hands.
Shape the tots: Scoop up about 3 tablespoons worth of potato-cheese mixture. Using your hands, pack it together and form it into a tot-like shape. Continue until all the potato is used up.
Bread the tots: Put the flour in a shallow dish, the two eggs (beaten together) in another, and the panko in a third. Roll each tot in flour, shaking off the excess, then coat them in egg and roll them in the panko.
Fry ‘em up: In a heavy saucepan, add vegetable oil enough to come about 2 inches up the side of the pot, and heat it to about 365-370 degrees. Add your tots in batches – don’t crowd the pan – and fry until golden brown, 3-5 minutes.
Sprinkle with more salt as they come out of the oil. Serve hot.